Little Free Libraries: not food-safe pantries

Even though a national trend has some families converting their Little Free Libraries into food pantries, this may not be food-safe idea.  Little Free Libraries have a strong tie to Wisconsin. According to the Little Free Library website, in 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse. It was a tribute to his mother; she was a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it, so he built several more and gave them away. With others inspired by Bol’s idea, there are now more than 100,000 registered Libraries in more than 100 countries worldwide.

The coronavirus pandemic wasn’t the first time that individuals thought to convert their Little Free Library into a food shelf, but the idea has gained popularity this spring. While we wish to help our neighbors in need, there are public health concerns if using Little Free Libraries as food shelves or food pantries.

What is being done to help those in need? Many food pantries in Wisconsin have expanded eligibility requirements, allowing more individuals and families to quality for food assistance. Food pantries are working to safely distribute food by moving to a pre-pack system that limits contact and protects public health. Food pantries have established policies for frequent hand washing  and continually sanitizing touch points such as door knobs and common surfaces. Food pantries are also taking extra care to develop and enforce wellness policies for volunteers who help distribute food. In addition to distributing food, assistance programs are actively engaged in soliciting and managing donations for maximum impact. Many Extension offices have  developed materials highlighting resources within the community and are a great place to begin a search for help.

What are the concerns with Little Free Libraries as food pantries? Grocery stores, restaurants, and even many food banks and food pantries follow public health guidance for storing food under sanitary conditions in order to protect both quality and safety. Storing  food to protect public health generally means in an area away from rodents and insects and with proper temperature control. Embracing the public health standards that food banks and food pantries have established for food distribution is a great way to support our neighbors in need.

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